Extension of the ‘Disturbed Area’ tag for the entire state of Assam under Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 for another period of six months appears to be more of a statement on the level of preparedness of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led Assam government to handle the law and order situation on its own than the prevailing insurgency situation.
With top brass of Assam Police linking a decision on AFSPA withdrawal to the ongoing exercise of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state, the state government’s notification has triggered speculations over its security perception and management.
Special Director General of Police (Special Branch), Assam Police, Pallav Bhattacharyya was quoted by The Times of India as saying, “The situation is peaceful, but we will not take a decision on withdrawing AFSPA till the NRC exercise is over.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs that the security situation in Assam had improved substantially in 2017 and insurgent-related incidents declined to 33, the lowest since 1997.
“There was a substantial improvement in security situation in the state in 2017. The insurgent-related incidents declined from 246 in 2014 to just 81 in 2015, and further came down to 75 in 2016 and to 33 in 2017, being the lowest since 1997. The casualties of civilians and security forces personnel were also lowest at 9 in 2017. This was approximately 99 percent less than the 1,136 deaths of civilians and security forces that occurred in 1997. Moreover, 16 insurgents were killed while 204 were arrested during 2017,” stated the 213th Report of the Department Related Standing Committee on Home Affairs on “Security Situation in North Eastern States of India” laid on the table in both the Houses of Parliament on 19 July.
The Assam government issued the notification declaring the entire state as “Disturbed Area” up to six months beyond 28 August, notwithstanding a recommendation by the parliamentary standing committee asking both the Government of India and the Assam government to hold discussions and narrow down their differences over necessity of AFSPA in the state. Both the central and state government have concurrent power to issue notification under the AFSPA.
“The Committee is unable to comprehend the divergent perceptions of the situation in Assam. On the one hand, the Ministry has asserted that there has been an improvement in the security situation in Assam and, on the other hand, the area declared as disturbed under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, has been increased. The Committee also notes that the State Government of Assam has notified the whole State as disturbed area on the plea that it is not the appropriate time to reduce the area under AFSPA. This is a paradoxical situation that needs to be resolved. The Committee, therefore, recommends that the Central Government and the State Government should hold extensive discussions on the issue and narrow down their perception about the necessity of AFSPA in Assam,” stated the report.
The AFSPA allows any commissioned or non-commissioned officer of the armed forces or any other person of equivalent rank to enter and search any premises without a warrant, arrest without a warrant and even fire upon or otherwise use force even to the extent of causing death, against any person acting in contravention of any law in the notified disturbed area.
Assam government’s notification came a day after the Supreme Court directed the state coordinator, NRC, Prateek Hajela to carry out re-verification of tge cases of 10 percent of applicants in each district who were excluded from the complete draft of the NRC published on 30 July. Over 40 lakh applicants were excluded from the complete draft. Final NRC list is to be published after disposal of all claims against exclusions and objections against inclusions based on a Standard Operating Procedure to be approved by the apex court.
The extension of AFSPA and the Assam Police linking a decision on its withdrawal to the NRC exercise has raised questions which the Sonowal government may find difficult to answer. What was the need for extension of AFSPA and allowing the army and other central armed police forces to operate with impunity in entire Assam when insurgent violence has declined substantially in the state? Is the Sonowal government going to use the central armed police forces, which are sanctioned by the Centre for counter-insurgency operations, in law and order duty related to NRC exercise?
If the ‘Disturbed Area’ tag under AFSPA is withdrawn, it will automatically bring down the requirement of deployment of troops of the army and the central armed police forces in the state. It appears that Assam Police does not want to take any risk and wants the presence of central forces in the state to continue so that they can be requisitioned immediately in the event of any law and order emergency during the process of claims and objections and post publication of the final NRC.
Besides, it apprehends that insurgent outfits — United Liberation Front of Asom ( Independent), National Democratic Front of Boroland (Saoraigwra) and Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers — currently active in the state might try to take advantage of the vacuum resulting from withdrawal of central forces in the event the ‘Disturbed Area’ tag is withdrawn regain their organisational strength and influence.
The parliamentary committee, however, observed that withdrawal of the AFSPA from Tripura has been quite successful in ensuring a peaceful situation and expressed the view that “exercise of force must always be proportional to the operational requirements.”
The parliamentary standing committee also noted that despite a waning trend in insurgency, violent kidnappings and abductions are on the rise in Assam. “While the number of kidnappings-related activities of the insurgents show a marked decline from 94 in 2014 to 14 in 2016, the number of kidnapping and abductions, in general, as reported by the National Crime Record Bureau in the Crime in India-2016 report, shows a significant rise during this period from 4824 in 2014 to 6128 in 2016."
"The data given in this report also shows that with a rate of 18.8 kidnappings and abductions per thousand persons in 2016, Assam had the highest rate of kidnappings and abductions among all the states across the country. The State of Assam also had the highest rate of violent crimes among all the states in 2016. An overwhelming 87 percent of the victims of kidnappings and abductions were women. Moreover, out of 6128 abductions, only 249 victims were recovered. Assam also reported a huge number of 13,413 unrecovered victims of kidnappings and abductions that happened before 2016,” the report added.
While pressure will be mounting on the Sonowal government to strengthen and equip its own forces to curb rise in crimes, it may find it difficult to convince the people about the necessity of extension of AFSPA in Assam. The latest move has the potential to fuel anti-AFSPA movement in the state.
Updated Date: Aug 30, 2018 20:07 PM